Storm Surfers (TV Review)

Storm Surfers (TV Review)

Since it’s summer, my Netflix selections often go to simple shows. At this point, my brain is shut off, and I want something that will entertain me. I can save shows that will make me think for the winter months. For now, I just want to see people do summery things.

Like surf.

Long fascinated with big waves, and the mighty destruction that they can cause, I have watched my share of surf shows. It is pretty entertaining, and seeing people wipe out on massive swells is terrifying.

surfThis lead me to Storm Surfers, a show about a couple of Australian surf legends that have created a small team to help them track and surf the biggest storms of the Australian winter. They are looking to ride some of the biggest waves, or the heaviest pipes, that they can find.

I’ll make this review pretty simple, because the premise of the show is pretty simple. At only a few episodes, this one is digested easily, but offers some pretty decent entertainment.

The characters are both very likable. They have been surfing together, and best friends, for 25 years, and one of the best parts of the show is them sniping at one another like an old married couple. They are entertaining, and you don’t mind investing some time into watching their stories.

The show itself is pretty formulaic. Nerdy guy with the fancy computers sees a storm coming on some part of the continent. The guys, nearing 50-years old and worn down after decades of abuse from surfing, discuss their ailments. Then they quickly pack and head down to whichever part of Australia the storm is coming to. The storm will probably produce the biggest waves of the season (every storm seems to do this). We rarely see this kind of storm. The guys get there, weather threatens their chances to surf, and it is always extremely dangerous. They could die. Then they surf.

The idea is simple, but it works. Getting to see these guys surf some pretty dangerous waves is fun, even though we always know that they are going to be okay.

Since they are older, they are using high end technology to help them out, and since it is winter, they are always surfing in cold conditions. This sort of takes away the idea of surfing as this beach bum, laid-back lifestyle, but it still works. The old guys still give it their best shot, whenever their bodies will permit them to. Along the way, they meet up with other famous surfers, and often meet with locals to get the lay of the land, so to speak, on the area that they are surfing during that episode.

In the end, there are other films, or shows, that demonstrate some bigger wave riding. These guys aren’t chasing 50-footers, but they are looking for good pipe waves. They get some impressive, and frightening ones, but they are more in the 12-foot range.

If you are looking for some time to kill, and like watching a couple of humorous older people surfing, then Storm Surfers is the right ticket. Worth the watch.

“The Body in Question”- Northern Exposure S03E06

Quickly becoming addicted to Northern Exposure, I am thrown back to a time when things could be done on TV that seemed important. Music videos were dark and made intelligent social commentaries (think of Alice in Chains’ “Rooster”, or Pearl Jam’s “Jeremy”). TV shows could be weird, and people would still watch them (think Twin Peaks). And as I mentioned in a previous post, Northern Exposure could brilliantly break the fourth wall between characters and audience in order to allow us to step back and take a look at the issues of the day.

I wonder if things like this could still work?

Sure, I believe that we are in some sort of new Golden Age of television, where the quality of the product is at an all-time high. Cable shows are racking up the awards, and you don’t need to look too far to find a deep, intelligent drama on the air. There are just so many good shows right now, that it is difficult to complain. But these shows tend to exist in their own worlds (as brilliant as Game of Thrones is, it really isn’t saying tons about the way we live our lives in 2014. But, I absolutely adore the show).

I thought of this while watching Season 3, Episode 6 of Northern Exposure, entitled “The Body in Question.” In the episode, the gang from Cicely discover a frozen body and diary, indicating that the mysterious person was someone close to Napoleon, and it is revealed through his writing that Napoleon was not actually at the Battle of Waterloo.

Simple enough, right? Another quirky adventure for the Alaskans to solve before going on with their lives.

But, as this show tends to do, it took it far further than I would have expected for a 90’s network show. It had a debate. And it was amazing to watch.

The conflict centered around whether or not the town should reveal Pierre (their body) to the world, and take advantage of the tourist influx it could cause. They debated if they should reveal that history may be false, in that Napoleon was not even present for his greatest and most famous defeat. This would literally change history.

Of course, it was Chris, the existential radio DJ, that brought up the idea of the metaphysical debate on the validity of what Pierre could reveal. Do we want to change our past, the stories that have developed over the years and have truly defined who we are, as individuals, and as a nation? He states that his life would be no different if Napoleon wasn’t at the battle. But it would change things for so many people, because that is what we know, and a part of who we are. He discusses the comfort we get from our stories, such as George Washington cutting down the cherry tree. If that never happened, our lives would be the same. Or would they?

It was great to see characters discuss these types of things in the middle of a show that is mainly lighthearted. And the audiences responded, I assume, since the show continued on for years after its third season.

I miss that. That there can be a moment on TV that goes beyond entertaining you. That there is a part of it that can make you think, and make you wonder. That maybe you watched that episode and debated with your friends the importance of our history, of our stories, in shaping our lives.

chrisA great episode from a great series. Added on to the great debate that transpires at a town hall meeting, the episode ends with Chris reading Proust on air.

How can it get any better than that?

MI-5/ Spooks: S02E05

Getting hooked on another show on NetflixThis time, it’s the British spy drama, MI-5 (which apparently is called Spooks in some places, which makes searching for it on IMDB very confusing). The show is generally very entertaining, as it follows the British intelligence agency on a number of quests to protect their country from terrorism.

One episode in particular, entitled, “I Spy Apocalypse”, is really the centerpiece of the show so far. It focused on a possible drill at MI-5, where it was revealed that a terror group had released VX poison in London, and was planning on doing it in several major UK cities.

The story begins with us believing that this is all just a drill, and suspicions remain as the episode continues. As intelligent viewers, we are aware that the series continues, so the chances of there being some sort of terror holocaust are slim, but nonetheless, the episode does an incredible job in having us believe that it has all gone horribly wrong in Britain.

mi5-7The scenes were tense and the decisions made by the characters were impressive. Convincing them that it wasn’t a drill was no easy feat, either, but the series of events that unfolds is awesome. It wraps up with a climactic scene that really did have me on the edge of my seat.

This episode in particular speaks to the strength of the series, of creating something high tension and believable. We are taken for a ride, along with the characters, in trying to decide what is appearance and what is reality.

“I Spy Apocalypse” really is the high point for the series thus far, and it is TV at its most entertaining.

Throwback TV: Northern Exposure

Over the holidays, I have time to pour through several seasons of whichever television series I desire. I already wrote about my experiences with Homeland Season 2.

Perhaps I was the most excited about delving back into the 90’s, the era of my youth, to get a couple of years under my belt of a show I was too young to care about when it was on TV. My love for 90’s television needs quenching every now and then, and even I realize that it must go beyond my annual re-watching of Twin Peaks, or My So-Called Life.

I wanted to get into Northern Exposure, the fish out of water show about a New York doctor who is basically forced to work in Cicely, Alaska to pay off his student loans.

northern_exposureTwo days and two seasons later, I love the show. There are so many great, quirky things about it, that it goes beyond your typical TV show. It is much smarter than it would originally seem, and this came to a head while watching Season 2, Episode 6 (“War and Peace”). In this episode, the show did something I had never seen before.

They completely, and knowingly, stepped out of a scene to make an important social commentary on the First Gulf War and our nature as a warring society. The actors stopped their acting, discussing the fact that they were being watched by an intelligent audience. With cleverness, they skipped the scene they were in the middle of doing, discussed using one of the possible script revisions, and the actors discussed their characters. It was odd, but it was brilliant, and it really worked. Once their couple of minutes had passed, they moved on to the next scene that they had discussed, since one of the characters told us that “it was a good scene.”

I thought that a show being socially conscious and not only existing within the borders it had created for itself was a bold and interesting move. I really appreciated this as a viewer. It gave the audience credit for being an audience, and gave us credit for knowing that this was not the real world that we were watching, but that, in fact, there was a real world that existed outside of our television sets. Well played.

There are so many other things to enjoy about this show. The best parts, for me, are the highly intellectual radio DJ, Chris, who takes time to read Whitman and Tolstoy over the airwaves, much to the pleasure of his fans in town. For a town under 900, one would not expect them to appreciate this, but they adore Chris and respect his philosophical and literate views on life. There is also Ed, a teenager who knows his way around town, and loves Woody Allen while desiring to become a screenwriter or filmmaker when he gets older. And Maggie, the tough and sassy bush pilot who obviously becomes the love interest for the show, who has a curse where all of her previous boyfriends have died in odd fashion, including freezing to death on a glacier or being hit by a falling satellite.

There are six seasons of this show, and I am excited to see where it goes. There is a certain amount of predictability with the character arcs, things that I know will happen. But there are so many interesting and quirky secondary characters, that I am very much interested to watch the rest and see where they are taken.

This show was originally recommended to me by my tattoo artist, and I pass along the recommendation to those who have a soft spot for 90’s TV.

Oh, and to satisfy my Twin Peaks nerdiness and obsession, there is an episode in Season 2 where they make direct reference to the show, apparently spotting the Log Lady through a viewfinder while the music changed to a somber, Peaks-inspired tune. Brilliant.

Downton Abbey: intelligent social commentary, or soap opera?

Before even beginning this post, I will admit: I have quickly fallen in love with Downton Abbey. I knew I would get to watching a show that had so much buzz about it, as well as an impressive haul of awards, but I didn’t think I would get into it so quickly. Thanks, Netflix. In just a couple of days, I have nearly completed the first two seasons. I realize there is much more to the show out there, but I feel this is a good start.

As much as I have enjoyed the stellar acting and engaging storylines, I must wonder if this show is really, really smart, or is just pulling the wool over our eyes and having us watch a soap opera with fancy costumes?

Well played. Now I am hooked.
Well played. Now I am hooked.

Some of the stories come straight out of the afternoon soaps: the gossip, affairs, back stabbing, murder (attempted murder?), pregnancy, sisterly fights, inter marriages, war, the gay character, strange and unexplained death. Don’t get me wrong, I like these stories and plan to keep watching to find out what will happen. But isn’t this exactly what a soap does? Throws preposterous storylines at us knowing that we have already become too invested to give up on the characters we have come to love or hate?

On the flip side, Downton Abbey does offer viewers the fun and somewhat unique (if you ignore the fact that it is basically Gosford Park as a TV series) glimpse into the lives of the elites, and those who serve them. There is very much an upstairs/downstairs separation between the characters, each set living their own lives. Yet, there is a fair amount of interaction between the two halves of the world, and it is interesting to see how each side will gossip about the other, while becoming close and friendly with them. It is kind of endearing, and all of the help on the show is wonderful. They are prideful people who respect their lots in life and take their jobs seriously. This is perhaps where the series is at its best.

But are they trying to do this, or is it simply just there because of the setting? Or because it provides us with two groups of people that we can discuss and gossip about, while they do the same?

High end literary television or not, this show is addictive and fun.